Luke 7:18-35 [Audio link at bottom]
Expectations. Movies, Marriages, Ministries.
Jesus Did Not Meet People’s Expectations
Luke 7:18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
I did not meet John’s expectations. Yet Jesus stressed to John that He was indeed fulfilling the Messianic ministry that He was anointed by the Lord for according to Isaiah 61. Jesus fully recognized that His ministry did not fir the popular conception of what the coming of the Messiah would be like, thus He finished his statement to John almost apologetically, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
After John’s people left to go back to John, Jesus uses the platform accorded Him by John’s question to speak to the crowds about their expectations. In speaking to the crowds of his generation, I think Jesus has some very biting words to say to our generation as well.
John Met and Exceeded People’s Expectations
Luke 7:24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.
John met and exceeded people’s expectations. John serves as a natural contrast to Jesus, just as he has his whole life. Jesus’ point here is that just as much as his own ministry did not meet people’s expectations, John’s ministry on the other hand, met expectations. What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A spineless, spoiled people pleaser? No! You went because you heard that John was a prophet and you wanted to see the spectacle. This was the draw, a true prophet has come in the tradition of the great prophets. People were drawn to the spectacle of seeing something that had not happened for nearly 400 years, a true prophet preaching in Israel. Yet here’s the problem with expectations - sometimes when someone or something meets our expectations we begin to take them for granted and not look more closely at them because they were what we thought they would be, so we still keep them in our own little box.
John met and exceeded their expectations. John was not just any prophet, but was in fact the forerunner and the one sent to announce the Messiah. They went out to see a prophet, but didn’t realize that he was not just any prophet, but the greatest prophet that ever lived.
The greatness of a prophet is measured by the clarity of the message announced. By that standard, John was not only a prophet, but was the greatest prophet who has ever lived, for he pointed out the Messiah in the flesh. You want clarity - there He is! You wanted to see a prophet, john was the greatest there ever was. Yet even though John’s ministry met and exceeded people’s expectations, some people still rejected his ministry. This brings us to a third observation:
John’s Ministry was Received and Rejected by People
Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
John was a great prophet, yet the one who who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he, and the crowds heard this and justified God, for they had received John’s baptism. This is a confusing statement by Jesus and a curious response noted by Luke as well. John was a great prophet because He pointed to the Messiah, yes, but what does it mean that “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he”?
Perhaps this: John’s ministry was to direct people to Jesus, yet Jesus was criticized for, directing his ministry to those considered to be the least. John’s ministry pointed people to the Messiah, and as we saw last week, the Messiah’s ministry was pointed toward those who were considered to be the least: the blind, the lame, the leprous, the deaf, the dead, the poor, the outcasts. In the kingdom, the least have been raised up to a place of special honor. John’s ministry, then, signaled the end of the old order of things, and now is Jesus, a kingdom is being proclaimed that turns the conventional patterns and expectations upside-down.
Upon hearing Jesus say this a murmur went through the crowd. For the crowd is filled with people who were labelled the least (v. 21); that is, they were the least before John and Jesus came on the scene. This is why Luke says that they justified God, NIV - they acknowledged God’s way to be right - the very fact that they, the least, had responded so overwhelmingly to John’s message proved that God was right to send a messenger like John. All types of people went out to see John, the spectacle, but only certain people responded to his message of repentance. Just like the reaction to Jesus is divided, so the reaction to John was: The Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him. This brings us to the heart of this passage, Jesus’ scathing words of critique.
Jesus’ Critique of the Expectations of the Crowds Luke 7:31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
Here’s the ironic point Jesus is making. Jesus’ own ministry did not meet up to people’s expectations, so people criticized Him. John’s ministry on the other hand met and even exceeded people’s expectations yet people still criticized and rejected him. Jesus says, “Man, this generation acts like children!” Rarely is Jesus so frustrated with us.
- We Still Judge God According to Our Expectations Jesus’ words were pointed to His own generation, yet are we any better? If anything, living is a culture as we are, so saturated with consumerism, probably means that we really have to explore our own hearts. Under a consumeristic mindset, God is a product that we buy, and if he doesn’t meet our expectations, we trade Him in for something else, something more shiny and easy to manage. God is not a product! He is not something for us to buy and sell, and He frankly is not all that concerned with whether he meets our expectations. God’s ways are higher than our ways. Isaiah 55:8-9: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. When we judge God according to our expectations, we put ourself in the place of God and He becomes our little dancing entertainment. Do this God, no now do this! Let me ask you: when has God failed to meet your expectations? How did you respond? Did you become bitter toward Him because He didn’t do what you wanted? Or did you humbly recognize that He is God and that His ways are higher than your own and His ways may not always be about meeting your expectations, but yet if you trust him you may find that He exceeds your expectations.
- We Still Judge God on the Basis of How His People Meet Our Expectations See some of us would counter that we’d never presume to judge God, but in fact we continually judge God as we judge his people. So we find fault with His people whenever they don’t meet our expectations, and again set ourselves up as judge. Our generation is perhaps the worst at this. We judge churches saying I don’t like his style, or I’m not into that music, or they are just not meeting my needs. Now I want to be careful, because as a person in ministry it may sound like I’m griping, and I’m not trying to gripe, I’m trying to preach this text. And what I learn from this text is that I need to be very careful that my heart isn’t judgmental toward the different forms good ministry takes. That doesn’t mean that it’s never proper for us to evaluate ministries and minsters. In fact, we are told in scripture to evaluate ministries and ministers on the basis of character, maturity orthodoxy, and fruit. 1 Timothy 3 - character and maturity, 2 Timothy 4 orthodoxy and fruit. Yet, we’ve got to be careful and watch our heart when we find ourselves criticizing others simply for stylistic reasons and to whether they are catering to our own expectations.
- God Uses Diverse Approaches to Ministry to Reach People Here is the amazing contrast in this passage. John and Jesus could not have had more different approaches to ministry. John stayed at the margins of society, away from people, preaching at them and calling out to them in fiery messages of judgement. Jesus went to people, finding them, touching them to heal them. Yet Jesus highly commended John for fulfilling the mission God gave him, and notes that John’s ministry was justified by the people who were saved. Wisdom is vindicated by her children. Various approaches to ministry is not a bad thing. I used to get discouraged by all the different denominations and Christian ministries in the city. Wouldn’t it be better if the city had one church doing one thing? After all Jesus prayed that his church would be one as He and the Father were one. So how did my thinking change? I think I understand the Trinity better! Reflection on the Trinity reveals that oneness does not mean sameness. So with God, so with God’s people.
- Don’t Worry About People’s Expectations, Find God’s Call on Your Life and Fulfill Your Ministry.
- God’s Calling: The one thing that John and Jesus shared in common is that they both clearly understood the ministry that God had called them to. What’s yours?
- Fulfilling God’s Call on your life: Be yourself! Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Find your own voice and style in ministry. You’re not me and I’m not you. And we trust that diversity is a good thing.
- Get thick skin. People will criticize your style. They’ll say that your not doing it right. Why can’t you be more like so and so. Now don’t ignore criticism - there often is something there that God can use to mature you. Yet no one has ever produced fruit for the Lord by pleasing people and catering to everyone’s expectations.
Jesus and John understood God’s call on their lives and lived out that calling in their own lives in different ways. Jesus failed to meet people’s expectations of what the Messiah was to be, John exceeded people’s expectations of what a prophet was to be. Both of them were ultimately killed by people who were not able to receive their message.